The last two days in this country have been an emotional roller coaster. This is not an unusual occurrence in my life, but this time it was for a much different, and special reason. Monday and Tuesday were Yom Hazikaron (יום הזיכרון) and Yom Haatzmaut (יום העצמאות). In Israel they celebrate the Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks back-to-back with Independence Day. This is the most Israeli time of all Israeli times to be in Israel (what a weird sentence). I feel that so much of the Israeli ethos is captured in these two days.
On Yom Hazikaron eve and morning the city's siren sounds for 2 minutes and the entire country stops whatever they are doing to stand together in a moment of mourning. I stood at the top of Dizengoff fountain and looked down as cars, buses, and people stopped, chills covering my body as the siren ended and we all continued to stand still because we couldn't escape what the sirens were signifying. They were there to facilitate a nation of millions of people to remember the 23,169 Israeli soldiers who have died defending Israel and the 3,728 innocent civilians who were killed in terror attacks. The sadness pours over the entire nation. No one can escape it.
The day goes by and people do various things. Many visit graves or have memorial services for fallen soldiers in their towns or at their schools. My friends and I went to Jerusalem and I got to visit the Kotel (Western Wall) for the first time since arriving this trip. As soon as I touched the stones the tears began to pour out of my eyes. I don't think I've ever felt the need to pray so greatly and I don't think I've ever prayed so hard.
At sundown the country makes the switch from a time of great sadness to a time of incredible celebration. When Yom Haatzmaut came I was still in Jerusalem. The streets of Ben Yehuda filled with families. People set up stands on the sides of the streets selling hotdogs, cotton candy, flags, and other patriotic toys and trinkets. Music blasted from every corner of the city.
From a non-Israeli point of view it might seem odd or difficult to have these two days happen like this, but I've realized why it is the way it is. On memorial day we mourn. We are so deeply saddened for the lives that have been lost in the name of Israel, for the safety of it's people, or taken by those who continue to threaten to destroy us. But then we celebrate. We celebrate that we have an Israel to defend, that those who were lost were not lost in vain. We rejoice that they had something worth fighting for and that we still have this amazing nation, these amazing people, worth fighting for.
There are days I feel so American here and there are days when I think I feel Israeli. These two days I really felt like I was a part of this place, and I hope that every person gets a chance to feel it for themselves someday.